“Reasons To Hate Vietnam” (response)

This post is in response to the popular 2007 article, “Reasons To Hate Vietnam”. My situation is quite different from the OP’s. He was vacationing with his pregnant wife in Hanoi (North Vietnam) in 2007. Whereas I’m single and have been here in HCMC (South Vietnam) for 2 months so far, in 2013; first as a tourist, now as a temporary resident.

No country in the world is immune to haters. Just google “Why I hate [any country]” or “[Any country] sucks” to see what I mean. Negative perspectives balance out all the gushers to hopefully give a more accurate impression. If tourists and newcomers are aware of the risks and worst aspects of a place, they actually have a better chance of a successful trip.

The OP admits his post was “written in the heat of the moment” and I give him credit for keeping it online for others to read, relate to, and challenge, even five years later. I like that he took the time to share his thoughts about Vietnam and hope that my thoughts on the same country will only help future and virtual travelers alike, better understand Vietnam.

1lies

Excerpt: I’m tired of being lied to. It’s as if the population has a compulsive lying habit.

The first thing he mentions is a well-known hotel scam. In his defense: maybe it wasn’t so common or well-known in 2007. It’s unfortunate that one of the most common, blatant scams can happen within minutes of entering Vietnam. However, one only needs a few minutes online to read all about it in posts like this, this and this.

The scammers (shady drivers working with shady hotels) are wrong to treat visitors this way, but it’s also the traveler’s responsibility to educate him/herself on what to expect in a new place.

2pricing

Excerpt: overcharging foreign tourists is not necessarily a kind of fraud, but part of the “culture”.

For the most part, dual pricing doesn’t bother me. Charging foreigners more for food, admission and goods seems to only happen in countries where the foreigners have considerably more disposable income than the locals. I’m sure outrageous examples exist, but the author’s example has him paying $5 where a local would be charged $4. Seems negligible.

With a few exceptions, I always get better deals when I’m with a local like Nhung, than when I’m by myself. I just accept it. Even with “Westerner prices”, Vietnam’s still pretty inexpensive.

3noise

Excerpt: It seems like this country has developed or enhanced every known way to pollute the environment with noise. 

Oh yeah, traffic honks like crazy here. In America, a honk can mean, “I’m reaching my breaking point!!” But here, it seems to mean, “[honk!] I’m over here now. {honk!] Ok, now I’m over here. [honk!] I’m gonna turn left! [honk!] Hi everyone. [Honk!]” I’ve written about my own struggles with noise here, but I may be getting used to it, at least the honking.

In his defense: I think the heightened noise factor was just one more straw on the camel’s back.

4 language

Excerpt: I can best describe the Vietnamese language as the undulating growl emitted by a cat that’s been disturbed while it chews on a mouth full of dry cat food. meruughh-meowruugh-rruughh

Some people just have annoying voices. In one’s own language it’s like, “Wow, that voice is annoying” but in a foreign language it’s like, “That language is ugly. “ I work with about 80 Vietnamese and sure, some have annoying voices. But that’s the voice, not the language. Some Vietnamese have quite nice, cute voices and make Vietnamese sound pleasant. I haven’t found a higher percentage of annoying voices here in Vietnam than in the US and I listen to them talk to each other 40+ hours a week.

In the US, I knew an American guy who talks like a nasally Kermit the Frog and an American woman who speaks 100% in vocal fry. Imagine a foreigner’s introduction to English by way of those two. They’d surely return to their homeland and tell their friends how horrible American English sounds!

5 traffic

Excerpt: Every sidewalk is packed to the brim with vendors and households doubling their street-level floor as a business. This means that pedestrians are forced to walk in the street. The feeling of wind that rushes past you as you’re nearly clipped by a speeding motorbike or auto is at all times constant.

I don’t have a lot to say here other than: yes, Vietnam traffic is intense. There’s a loose system to it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t injuries and fatalities every day.

He mentioned that due to the traffic, his wife “fears for the safety of the child in her belly every time she ventures outside the hotel.” I don’t like to question people’s travel choices, but why venture to someplace like Vietnam’s noisy, crowded capital with a pregnant wife? Seems a more relaxing place would have been a better choice.

6 visa

Excerpt: I hate how much it costs to enter this country.

I don’t think an American will get much empathy over visa costs, considering how much the US charges for a tourist visa. ($160 as of this post.)  His VN visa cost him $50 in 2007. My initial visa was also $50 and my 1-month extensions have been $20 each, in 2012 and 2013. Doesn’t seem like enough to complain about.

7 skinny

Excerpt: Climbing countless flights of stairs because the Vietnamese like to build their hotels at the width of a single room pisses me off.  

This complaint is a little silly – you could say the same about walk-ups in NYC, San Francisco and anywhere. Skinny buildings maximize limited real estate and exist pretty much anywhere in the world. And at least in HCMC, there are lodging choices other than hostels, such as the beautiful Park Hyatt here in District 1.

In his defense: Especially with a pregnant wife, so many stairs in his hotel had to be yet more straws on his already strained camel-back.

8 stores

Excerpt: The cultural habit of parking motorbikes in such a way that every square centimeter of space in front of a store or restaurant I want to enter drives me nuts.  

It’s true, VNese sidewalks are meant for motorbikes and we pedestrians have to navigate as best we can, often hopping into the street or squeezing past parked bikes. What he perceives to be a “lack of thinking and courtesy” I think is more like, “What’s wrong? You can fit past. Sure you can. See? You did it!”

It’s a “personal space” issue. We Westerners are used to more personal space than anyone else in the world. At my job, a coworker’s hip might graze or even rest on my arm while she talks to my deskmate. If this happened in the US, I’d be like, “Excuse your butt, missy!” But here in VN, the most I’ll do is move over a little bit.

9 lobsters

Excerpt: What was tossed on my plate was one of the most visually revolting animals I’ve ever seen.  

What?! I’ve never seen this horror. Nor would I order an entire lobster for $3. (Ok, maybe I would.) Wow.

10 3 C's

Chairs, cockroaches, cholera (no excerpt necessary.)   

Yes, those chairs are everywhere. They make me glad to be a relatively small person.

A cockroach fell onto the front of my shirt from a restaurant ceiling while I was eating dinner with Sophie and Binh on Bui Vien one night. I shrieked pretty loudly. It was gross. I’m just glad all three places I’ve rented – including Long Hostel – have been critter-free. (Gekkos don’t count.)

I think there was a cholera outbreak in 2007. I haven’t heard of cholera here.

11 pith

Excerpt: Men and boys of all ages wear them regularly, and the sight of it creeps the hell out of me.

Must be a North Vietnamese thing; I haven’t seen any in Saigon but I think they’re cute! For whatever reasons, I don’t have the war associations the OP does – probably from skipping war movies. (Scorsese and Fincher movies are more my speed.) I find the OP’s final statement on this to be troubling, but will leave it for others to discuss.

12 taxis

Excerpt: In Vietnam, it’s really to the point where we consistently expect the worst out of every taxi ride. This is a country known for rigged meters (that count faster than they should) and shady drivers. 

Totally agree with this one! I knew an Italian guy in Pham Ngu Lao who swore by taking taxis. He claimed it was the same price as a xe om (motorbike) and he’s dead wrong. Each time I’ve taken a taxi has been unnecessarily expensive. In Vung Tau I was glad Julie’s husband expensed our taxi after we were charged about 6 times too much for it. Even the two trusted companies, Mailinh and Vinasun, aren’t innocent. Unless I have luggage or can expense it, I always use xe oms.

13 food

Excerpt: I find the spectrum of options and flavors within those options to be much narrower most places in SE Asia. To put it bluntly, the food is quite bland and uninspiring.

I blame most of the hype on gushers like this guy who calls Vietnamese food “simply divine”. I want to know: what in the world did he eat?! Don’t get me wrong, I like phở bò, fresh spring rolls, most of this and all of this and this. But I haven’t eaten anything I must have again. I certainly wouldn’t call anything “divine”; more like “just fine”.

I really like that I can get lunch for $1–2, but that doesn’t really get me the utmost in flavor complexity. It’s lunch. Two bucks and I’m not hungry anymore. Mission accomplished.

14 cultural

Excerpt: “There is a real culture clash happening with travelers and locals in this country. Tatiana expresses to me how much she loathes it when people touch her—a sentiment that I share.”

Vietnam hasn’t been open to tourists for very long – compared to say, Italy – and the locals who work the most with tourists aren’t always the most sophisticated. At the top of the spectrum, you’ll have an engaging, articulate tour guide who speaks English fluently and seems to genuinely enjoy meeting people of all cultures. At the other end, are rather poor people who beg or walk the streets selling (basically) junk, competing with dozens of others doing the same thing. It’s not an ideal situation for tourists or locals.

Referring to the Vietnamese tendency to get your attention by grabbing your arm or elbow, his wife asks, “I understand why they do it, it’s a part of their culture, but why can’t they understand that it’s offensive in mine to do it?” They are not in your country, you’re in theirs. The responsibility here is not for them to learn your customs and practices, but for you to deal with and navigate theirs. Ideally, people who work with tourists would be savvy to the cultures of the people they’re dealing with, but for Vietnam right now, that’s just too much to ask. Caveat emptor.

15 nonverbal

Excerpt: Not since Brazil have I encountered such difficultly communicating with people. I’m chiefly blaming it on their inability to comprehend hand gestures—as the Vietnamese don’t often speak with their hands—and a general lack of intelligence. 

Over the past two months, I’ve gotten to know dozens of Vietnamese: tour agents, xe oms, the family who runs Long Hostel, coworkers, Viet Kieu, neighbors, various wait staff, Nhung and Nghia. They are not less intelligent than other people, but some gestures are quite different. For example, they don’t recognize the Western “come here a sec” hand gesture. Their “come here” is a fingers-downward sweeping motion that looks like “sweep under the rug”.

It’s risky business to measure someone’s intelligence level using a Western Body Language measuring stick. Pantomime and communicating with foreigners is a skill that some Vietnamese haven’t had a reason to develop. It takes time to pick up on patterns of people you haven’t spent much time around. For example, some coworkers pronounce “sh” as simply “s”. Early on, it took me awhile the decode “sobbing” to mean “shopping”, but it’s easier now that I’ve caught on to the patterns. I wasn’t less intelligent before I realized the Vietnamese accent can turn an “sh” into an “s”.

I think the OP assumes that body language, pantomimes and nonverbal communication are universal, but they’re not. For everything I don’t “get” about Vietnamese people, I assume there’s something they don’t “get” about me. One of my favorite things about talking to Nhung is getting to the bottom of some of these things.

FInal thoughts   excerpt: I can’t say I’d ever recommend a visit to this country to anyone, but for the curious, there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself. 

Vietnam’s an interesting vacation choice that shouldn’t be jumped into without research. Of the countries I’ve been to, it reminds me the most of eastern Russia. (I lived there for a year in 1998.) Vietnam plays by Vietnam’s rules, and probably works best with flexible, empathetic travelers who have a high tolerance for “adventure”.

I’m not above being irritated by Vietnam; there are some things I’ll never get used to. At least for now, it’s worth the frustration to understand why I think the way I do and to discover the expectations I unknowingly place on others. I’ll post a more personal take on Vietnam once I have it sorted out.

Have you not liked a place and later learned that your own perspective or expectations were preventing you from liking it?

12 thoughts on ““Reasons To Hate Vietnam” (response)

  1. Some of the excerpted criticism of Vietnam would go double for India (scams, noise, traffic, fear of intestinal collapse), and some of it doesn’t go as far as it might if it was referring to the Vietnamese neighborhood in San Jose, California, where my wife and I were told in two restaurants in a row that they had no food when Vietnamese diners were eating at other tables. As for bad experiences leading to generalizations about travel, I got my wallet taken by a pickpocket on the metro in Paris, grabbed him with both arms around his little gypsy neck, sprawled on the floor of the train, and retrieved my stuff while the Parisians did nothing but read and sniff. Do you hear me complaining? Well, maybe, but I’m not going to avoid Paris because of dumbass thieves.

  2. I loved reading this! I’d like to add my own two cents to post. Glad to see that you’ve written a response to the article! I’ve wanted to. but never got around to it!

    -Dual Pricing: You basically said this, but I’ll go into more detail. We (Westerners) don’t just have a little bit more disposable income in comparison to many Vietnamese, we have a lot. My coworkers make around $100 a month. While I’m not going to let salespeople inflate the price 400%, I’m willing to pay a bit more for things and not get bent out of shape. I literally make more than 10 times the amount of my coworkers, I don’t think I should complain.

    -Mutant Lobsters: I can’t quite zoom in enough, but I’m almost positive that these “lobsters” are in fact mantis shrimps, which I find taste much better than lobsters. I think they are fairly common in Vietnam, and were probably overpriced, but nothing else is wrong with them. Look them up! They definitely look better alive than dead. 🙂

    Taxis: There are only a few taxis here that I trust, and I seem to mostly get along ok using those. Friends have told me that when they’ve been overcharged, they’ve simply told they taxi driver they’ll go to the police and have just paid whatever they thought was fair. I think this is a good idea. I’ve also been screwed over by a few xe om drivers too though!

    Food hype: I LOVE this food here! Especially the desserts! I think it’s just not everyone’s taste.

  3. My reply is every country has scammers, rude waiters (try Paris) and other bad aspects. If you want to visit a Little US, stay home. Craig is nowhere near a world traveler. If he was, he’d have done some preparing before he went. Not a single negative he sited was Vietnam centric. Learn how to barter for you purchases, tit’s the way in almost every part of the world, Craig. Learn to get a hotel in a place where there is less noise. Eat in respectable restaurants where the food is better (though a $3 lobsters is pretty good, I usually pay $5.). I have traveled the world, but I am smart enough to not compare those places with the US. I’ve visited Vietnam for 10 years. I love the place. Generally Craig, stay home, you’re a bad example of Americans, we don’t need you spreading your rudeness around. We’ve already got a bad worldwide reputation.

  4. I am a Vietnamese and I like your post. It’s informative, honest and helpful. I have travelled to a few countries both in Asia and Western world and I see what you say does make sense to me. I am thinking about sending your post to a new friend from Canada as he is thinking about visiting me and Vietnam. I just hope he would like and dislike my country in the ways it should be treated.

    Hope to read some more from your experiences.

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